SYDNEY, Dec. 17 (UPI) — Orbiting a star called Wolf 1061 is a newly discovered exoplanet Wolf 1061c.
The astronomers who found it think the planet is rocky and resides within the habitable zone — close enough to its host star to host liquid water, but not so close the water all evaporates. At just 14 light years away, it’s the closest potentially habitable exoplanet.
Researchers described the alien world in a new paper, published this week in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone where it might be possible for liquid water — and maybe even life — to exist,” lead study author, Duncan Wright, an astronomer at the University of New South Wales, said in a press release.
Wolf 1061c is 4.5 times the mass of Earth. It is one of three planets observed circling Wolf 1061, a red dwarf star found within the constellation Ophiuchus. The other two planets are also rocky, but either too close or too far away to host liquid water.
Exoplanets have been found orbiting closer stars than Wolf 1061, but none of them have been remotely inhabitable.
Astronomers located Wolf 1061c, as well as its two siblings, using the HARPS spectrograph, an instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s telescope in Chile.
ESO is one of several observatories leading the effort to identify potential habitable exoplanets. Astronomers have found a few thousand, many of them rock and several potentially habitable. But most Earth-like worlds are located hundred or thousands of light-years away.
Researchers hope to observe Wolf 1061c pass across the face of its host star soon. That would allow astronomers to study the planet’s atmosphere and confirm whether it hosts life-supporting qualities.